Tag Archives: Contract With America

Call this guy a promise-breaker

That darn Markwayne Mullin. He said he’d serve just three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and then bow out.

So, what does the Oklahoma Republican do? He reneges on his pledge. He’s going to run for a fourth term. Term limits? Who needs ’em, right Rep. Mullin?

Actually, since I don’t believe in mandated term limits, I’m not all that worked up about Mullin’s decision to try once again to be elected to his House seat.

There’s a certain irony, though, attached to this announcement.

One is that Mullin made a foolish pledge in the first place. He says he was so frustrated serving in Congress during the Barack Obama administration that he now wants to serve during the time Donald Trump is president. He thinks he can get more done while Trump is president.

The foolishness of the pledge reminds me of how many of the 1994 Contract With America class of congressmen and women promised to serve a limited number of terms. Some of them kept that pledge, others took it back. I think of former Rep. George Nethercutt of Washington state, who defeated House Speaker Tom Foley in arguably the biggest upset of the 1994 election. Nethercutt vowed to serve three terms and then he pulled it back. He eventually gave up his House seat to run unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate from Washington; his broken promise became an issue and he lost that campaign.

U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry, from right here in the Texas Panhandle, also was elected that year. He has voted in favor of proposed constitutional amendments limiting lawmakers’ terms. He just never made the pledge for himself. He’s still in office — 22 years later!

Back to Markwayne Mullin. This clown also declared during a town hall meeting earlier this year that the public doesn’t pay his salary. Huh? Yep. He said he pays his own way to serve in Congress.

Umm. No, young man. Not true! The public pays your salary, your office staff’s salary, and all the perks associated with your office. Why, even I have a stake in your salary, even though I am not one of your constituents.

So, my hunch is that the voters of his Oklahoma congressional district just might invoke their version of term limits — by kicking his rear end out of office next year.

“We understand that people are going to be upset. And we get that. We understand it,” Mullin said. “I’m not hiding from that. Because we did say we were going to serve six years.”

There might be a lesson here. Which is that certain campaign promises are not to be treated like something you can just toss out when you get a change of heart.

JFK murder recalls a curious interview


Take a good look at this picture. You know the moment it has recorded.

Standing behind the grieving Jacqueline Kennedy, just over her right shoulder is a fellow I used to know pretty well. He is U.S. Rep. Jack Brooks, a Democrat from Beaumont, Texas, and arguably the crustiest, most partisan member of the Texas congressional delegation at that time … or perhaps any time.

Brooks died just a few years ago. He was one of the Democrats who lost his re-election bid in that historic Republican “Contract With America” tide that swept over Congress in 1994.

The previous year, I sat down with Brooks to interview him about the events that occurred in Dallas 30 years earlier. I sought to get into the man’s soul, into his heart. I wanted him to share with his constituents — through this interview to be published in the Beaumont Enterprise — what he felt that day.

Jack was riding in the motorcade that beautiful day in Dallas. It was Nov. 22, 1963. He was riding several vehicles behind the presidential limo that was carrying the Kennedys and Texas Gov. John Connally and his wife, Nellie.

Rifle shots exploded from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository Building, hitting the president and Gov. Connally. Their car took off at full speed for Parkland Hospital. The world held its breath when news broke that “shots were fired” at the motorcade.

Then the terrible result flashed around the globe: The president was dead.

I sought to plumb deep into Rep. Brooks’ heart and soul that day.

But I learned something that day about Brooks that I knew intuitively all along. He wasn’t prone to thinking like that. I recall being disappointed at the seeming lack of pathos this man.

Brooks wasn’t the most gracious fellow I’ve ever met. He could be as mean as they come. Perhaps he wasn’t comfortable talking to a media representative about that terrible day.

Surely he knew, I speculated to him out loud, about the immense burden that his mentor and friend — President Lyndon Johnson — was carrying at that moment. Did he sense it? Did he grasp in the moment that the world was watching everyone’s move that day? Brooks didn’t confide much to me during our visit that day.

That interview stands perhaps as the most glaring missed opportunity I experienced during nearly four decades in daily journalism.

Oh, how I sought far more than I got from a veteran Texas politician.

No term limits, please

Harry Reid’s announcement that he’s retiring from the U.S. Senate is going to prompt the predictable calls for term limits for members of Congress.

I’ve heard some yammering from my network of social media friends.

Many of them favor term limits, thinking apparently that voters of various states and congressional districts aren’t smart enough to determine whether their elected representatives are doing a good job for them.

One of my pals — who I am certain echoes the views of others on the right — thinks Sen. John McCain, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Dick Durbin, Sen. Chuck Schumer, and probably dozens of other congresspeople need to hit the road right along with Reid.

My friend is mistaken.

Republican bomb-thrower Newt Gingrich led the revolutionary Contract With America insurgency in 1994. Republicans took control of both congressional chambers, Gingrich became speaker of the House and Congress sought to limit the terms of its members. It has failed every time.

The one aspect of term limits that I favor has been enacted by the GOP House caucus, which limits the number of terms that House members can serve as committee chairs; Democrats ought to follow suit, but that’s a congressional rules decision.

Voters back home — including those in Nevada who’ve kept sending the Democrat Reid back to the Senate — have the right to decide who they want representing their interests in Washington.

Harry Reid did that for Nevadans. He’s now calling it a career. Good for him.

Term limits? We have them already. They’re called “elections.”


75 mph? Hey, no big deal

My good friend Paige Carruth is going to flip when he gets wind of what I’m about to write next.

I’ve gotten used to driving 75 mph on our highways.

There. It’s off my chest. I feel cleansed already.

Why the change of heart?

Flash back to the mid-1990s. I was writing editorials for the Amarillo Globe-News. Congress had just been taken over by Republicans in that historic Contract With America election. The federal government had enacted since the 1970s a federally mandated 55 mph speed limit on interstate highways. We took the position then that lifting the limit was dangerous on a couple of levels.

The feds had enacted the speed limit to reduce fuel consumption; the Arab oil embargoes of 1973 and 1979 frightened us, remember? Reducing the speed in fact reduced our consumption of fossil fuels. What’s more, it reduced the number of traffic fatalities, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Congress didn’t listen to us. The 1995 Congress removed the federal mandate and gave states the authority to jack up the speed limits. Texas jumped all over it and the 1995 Legislature bumped the speeds up to 70 mph on interstate highways. I was mortified. I said so at the time publicly, in my column; the newspaper editorial policy suggested it was a mistake as well.

Paige — a retired West Texas State University administrator — has never let me forget that I am a slow-poke by nature.

Well, that was true then. It’s not so true now.

I’ve gotten used to the 75 mph speed limit. The state has since boosted its speed to 75 on many highways — interstate freeways and state-run highways.

Allow me this tiny boast: My wife and I today returned from a weekend in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, where we visited our granddaughter — and her parents. We left their home in Allen this afternoon at 1:40; we pulled into our driveway in Amarillo at 7:37 p.m. That’s less than six hours in what usually takes us a lot longer.

The 75 mph speed limit helped us set what we believe is a personal land-speed record.

It helps that one of our two vehicles is a Toyota Prius hybrid that gets stupendously good fuel mileage, which enables us to justify our willingness to press the pedal to the metal. It also helps that the little car — to borrow a phrase used by the late great Hall of Fame baseball pitcher-turned announcer Dizzy Dean — can really “pick ’em up and lay ’em down.”

I feel better already having acknowledged that driving a little faster doesn’t give me the nervous jerks the way it once did.

Let’s not talk about driving 80 mph, which is allowed on some sections of Interstate 10 downstate. And Texas 130, where they allow you to goose it to 85? I’ll leave that stretch of roadway to the fools.

Congress too mean even for John Dingell

When John Dingell says that life in Congress has become too much to handle, then you know things have gone badly.

Rep. Dingell, D-Mich., is the longest-serving member in the history of the U.S. House of Representatives. Today he announced he is retiring at the end of his umpteenth term.


For 58 years Dingell has been serving the people of his House district.

I’m trying to think if there has been a more cantankerous member of the House then Dingell. One name comes to mind: the late Jack Brooks, D-Beaumont, who served for 40 years before losing his seat in the landmark 1994 Contract with America GOP sweep of both houses of Congress. “Sweet Ol’ Brooks,” which he called himself, was my congressman and we had, shall we say, a checkered relationship during the years I covered him while working for the paper on the Gulf Coast.

Dingell is at once a poster for and against term limits. He made congressional service his career, which term limits proponents say runs counter to the Founders’ wishes. Then again, the folks in his Michigan congressional district thought enough of him to keep re-electing over the course of 50-plus years.

“I find serving in the House to be obnoxious,” Dingell said. “It’s become very hard because of the acrimony and bitterness, both in Congress and in the streets.”

So, another longtime veteran is calling it a career. When this man says public service in Washington has become “obnoxious,” then you’d better break out the gas masks.

Term limits for all … but not for himself?

I recently chided members of Congress who have kept getting paid while other federal employees are having to take unpaid leave — all because Congress’s actions have resulted in a partial shutdown of the federal government.

I included my own member of Congress, Mac Thornberry, R-Clarendon, as a target of chiding. He’s still getting paid.

My criticism drew some response from blogosphere friends, a couple of whom took the argument a bit farther, suggesting that Thornberry shouldn’t even be in office at this moment, given that he ran for the House of Representatives the first time in 1994 while supporting the Contract With America, which included — among many other items — term limits for members of Congress.

I feel the need to respond to that criticism on Thornberry’s behalf.

To be clear, I am not a huge fan politically of my congressman — although I like him personally and consider him to be smart and an articulate advocate for his philosophical view of government.

Thornberry never took the pledge to limit himself to the amount of time he would serve in Congress. He espoused his support for the Contract With America, which was the brainchild of the leader of the 1994 GOP revolution, Rep. Newt Gingrich, who parlayed his party’s capturing of Congress into the House speakership. Thornberry has voted every time in favor of the term limits measure every time it’s come to the floor of the House. But because the legislation comes in the form of a constitutional amendment, it requires two-thirds of the House to approve it; the measure has fallen short every time.

Still, Thornberry is on the record as supporting it.

One of my blogosphere pals questioned my giving Thornberry a pass, suggesting that he should be more faithful to the CWA simply by taking the pledge to step aside after three terms, which the term-limits plank in the CWA provided.

This issue has dogged Thornberry ever since he took office, although the size of his re-election victories in every contested election — and there haven’t been that many of them — suggests that most voters are giving him a pass on it, too.

I have continued to maintain that Thornberry played the issue smartly when he ran the first time. Yes, he might have split a few hairs by supporting the CWA while declining to limit himself to three terms in office. Others in that congressional class of ’94 took the pledge, only to renege on it years later. Thornberry saved himself the embarrassment of trying to explain why he might have second thoughts.

As for lawmakers — including Thornberry — getting paid while fed staffers are being denied their income, well, that’s another matter. That should provide enough of an embarrassment all by itself.

Cruz taunts fellow GOP senators

The junior Republican senator from Texas is proving a point I made the other day about the intraparty battle brewing over whether the shut the government down by cutting off money for the Affordable Care Act.

Ted Cruz asks, “What’s the alternative”?” to shutting ‘er down.


The Lone Star State firebrand – who’s been on the job less than eight months – wasn’t around to witness what happened when the Republicans got their heads handed to them over this very thing. The alternative, Sen. Cruz, is to work with Democrats and “establishment Republicans” to keep the government functioning.

Cruz also wasn’t in the Senate when that body – along with the House of Representatives – approved Obamacare. The Supreme Court then handed the Obama administration a clear victory when it ruled – albeit narrowly – that the law is in fact constitutional.

Thus, we have a standing law.

Congressional Republicans, though, keep trying to overturn what’s been done legally.

And this fight between the two wings of the GOP – the tea party wing and the establishment wing – is proving to be worth the price of entertainment all by itself.

Keep “taunting” those older, more experienced hands, Sen. Cruz.

Tea Party vs. Establishment GOP

It’s going to be fun watching the tea party wing of the Republican Party take on the old dogs of the GOP.

It’ll be over Obamacare and whether it’s prudent to shut down the government to deprive the Affordable Care Act of the funds it will need to become operational.


Here’s what I see happening.

The establishment wing of the party knows the dangers of shutting the government down to prove some kind of political point. The Republicans tried that in the late 1990s. You remember that, yes? House Speaker Newt Gingrich and his band of GOP insurgents shut ‘er down over a budget fight with the Clinton administration; turned out Newtie really was mad because President Clinton didn’t give him a choice seat aboard Air Force One – but I digress.

The government shutdown didn’t work well for Gingrich and his Republican foot soldiers. They ended up getting their heads handed to them in the 1998 mid-term elections, Gingrich ended up quitting the House and President Clinton – despite being impeached by the House – ended his presidency on a high note.

The establishment guys remember all that. Their memories are painful. The tea party guys are new to this game of D.C. hardball politics. They’re righteous in their cause and, by golly, they’re going to have it their way or else.

I feel compelled to remind them that Newt Gingrich once was a righteous revolutionary who knew how to obtain power, but didn’t have a clue about what to do when it came time to actually use it.

A part of me is beginning to believe that history is going to repeat itself.

Disappointed, but not surprised by congressman

Mac Thornberry is a longtime Republican member of Congress from the Texas Panhandle who has long touted his kinship with the land. He comes from a long line of Donley County ranchers.

He’s also benefited from government farm subsidies — and that makes his vote to strip food stamp money from the latest farm bill all the more maddening.


Thornberry is among a handful of Texas congressmen, all Republicans, who have come under fire for their votes against the nutrition programs all the while taking money from the government for their own farming and ranching operations.

This is a disappointing development in Thornberry’s lengthy career in Congress.

He was elected to the House of Representatives in 1994 pledging to trim the size of government, which was a key tenet of the Contract With America on which the Republican slate of Senate and House candidates ran that year. Thornberry campaigned aggressively against a Democratic incumbent, Bill Sarpalius, for what he called wasteful spending policies — among other things. 

Now he’s been caught in a bit of a box. He toes the party line on cutting certain government programs, but he’s been revealed to be taking money at the time he’s denying it for others.

The term “hypocrite” keeps popping into my noggin.